Upstanding members:

Alan Kennedy writes: Re. “Della Bosca joins a long list of upstanding members” (yesterday, item 2). Wonderful whimsy from Ellis I am still wrestling with the concept of Mary Jo driving herself off the Chappaquiddick Bridge (or was that Billy Joe MCallister?) and now an extensive list of the sexual pecaddilllloes of our pollies past and present. Not sure even Gore Vidal nailed (sorry) Abe Lincoln for giving Mrs Lincoln the clap (a very serious matter in those days. Was this the cause of her massive depression even before that night at the Theatre which prompted the question “apart from that Mrs Lincoln how was the play?”)

But does Ellis just blow this stuff out of his nether regions or is there some basis in fact for all this. I knew about a lot of the people mentioned but some surprises. Did Dennis Thatcher really have two wives called Margaret? Was Ted Heath a practising homos-xual or was he just a celibate homos-xual? Did I miss the rebuttal of the Mary Jo did it to herself theory. And in this matter I don’t count Hinch because I have no idea what he was trying to say when he burst out of the sheds last week with a rebuttal of Bob’s theory.

And wasn’t there a bloke who used to wander round Macquarie Street Sydney claiming to be Gough’s love child? Absolute twaddle … all of us coming of age in the 60s would have happily laid claim to that one.

Stephen Murray writes: Surely Crikey (if not Bob Ellis) learnt from the Goodbye Jerusalem defamation case that it is hardly prudent to rely on Mr Ellis’ prurient speculation and commentary on politicians and matters s-xual.

In a piece that I assume was to make a case for refusing to unduly judge the private lives of those in public life (an argument I am in some sympathy with), Mr Ellis then proceeds to offer a catalogue of calumny, and list 40 public figures (mostly and conveniently dead) whose tendencies, proclivities and peccadilloes are obviously of interest to Mr Ellis.

In my one and only encounter with Mr Ellis, many years ago, we had a conversation about a senior politician long dead (and not mentioned yesterday). I remarked that I had met the politician’s daughter, and found her very charming. His reply was: “She wasn’t his daughter. He couldn’t get it up”.

The shower I needed after that was about as long as the one I needed after reading this piece.

Mark Ptolemy writes: Thank you Bob Ellis. Yes, there are many of us that find the neo-puritans of the Daily Telegraph just a little hard to swallow (pardon the pun). I’d imagine the number of illicit goings-on among journos would far outweigh that of what the pollies get up to, and frankly who cares?

Does it matter what people get up to in their private lives? The puritanical few should defer to the indifferent many and just stick to news and stop the key-hole peeking.

Boring bastards.

Andrew Elder writes: Bob Ellis is completely unnecessary, and only people who haven’t passed second year of an Arts degree think so (the sorrow and the pity, I ask you). You can’t keep wasting airtime on Bob Ellis and then complain that there’s a paucity of new voices coming through. What next, Charles Waterstreet?

Ellis missed the only thing left to say about the NSW government, which is that it puts the lie to the notion that the worst Labor government is better than any Liberal government.

Paul Sofronoff writes: I am sure that I don’t have the same linguistic skills as Mr Ellis, but perhaps someone can explain what “on his black slave” is supposed to mean? Even if it is historically or etymologically accurate, it sounds appalling to my ears.

Tom Osborn writes: Jimmy Carter confessed publically that he had committed adultery in his heart many times.

Mary Sinclair writes: So far the media has portrayed Kate Neil or Harmony O’Neal as a stripper, a script writer and a young postgraduate student? All? Or none? Or Belinda Neal in disguise?

Economic groupthink:

David Horkan writes: Re. “Nothing more stimulating than press gallery groupthink” (yesterday, item 1). Why on earth does Bernard Keane categorise those with reservations about the economic stimulus plan as being of the “far right”? Is Austrian economics now to be equated with setting fire to synagogues and displaying the swastika? The question is simply whether the stimulus will exacerbate the economic problems further down the track.

I don’t know. I don’t think Bernard knows. I am sure that the Governments and Central Bankers who allowed the situation to develop, and the mainstream economists who failed to forecast it, don’t know either.

Martin Gordon writes: Why is there this reality gap between what the Rudd government says what it actually does? Diversions keep the public focused on pure spin but its report on its stimulus is terrible. The part that is hard to fathom, cutting social housing, science and language centres and environmental measures to pay for overspends on school buildings of questionable value?

Credit to Alison Anderson in the NT for really outing the great lie of Labor helping aborigines, this is scandalous.

Now for Anna Bligh and her priorities — taking a few days off to appear on MasterChef. What?

Australian film:

Michael James writes: Re. “Why do Australian films continue to fall over?” (yesterday, item 20). Steve Dow wrote:

…complains ABCTV’s At The Movies critic Margaret Pomeranz, Hollywood swoops in and snares our best talent. “[Muriel’s Wedding director] PJ Hogan has gone, Phil Noyce, Peter Weir, Bruce Beresford — all those people who were making films here in the ’70s and ’80s ended up going to Hollywood…

This very much brings to mind what the Brits said in response to the 70’s scientific and technical brain drain: “Contrary to the complaints that British science is dead, it is alive and well. It is just that it is living in California.”

One could say the same about Australian science (recent examples, David Mills of Solar Thermal company Ausra now in Nevada, and Alan Trounson, director of California Stem Cell Institute CIRM). While both British science and film appears to have survived it is not clear if the same can be said for Australia.

For cinema, curiously and counter-intuitively, sharing the language does not appear to be a particular advantage from the national point of view — as opposed to the point of view of the talent (who can earn untold riches but which generally stays offshore).

Despite similar lamentation about the decline of the French film industry, it survives as a national industry rather than just an appendage to Hollywood. Mostly their stars and directors stay at home, occasionally doing a Hollywood-funded film for the fun and the cheque. But the cheque is cashed in a French bank. Hollywood also flatters them by remaking French hits for their too-dumb-to-read-subtitles market even if I suppose it must earn peanuts for the originators.

Naturally the French throw large state subsidies to this art form but again it all stays in France nurturing talent, their national image and lubricating their economy. And incidentally the French make quite a lot of rather grim realist movies but I would have to say are much more watchable than the average Australian equivalent. We seem to have adopted what I call the Brit-grot (gritty but also grotty)/Ken Loach school of film making — so grim you need a Valium afterwards and the Samaritans on speed-dial.

Which model is best? One that, socialist horreur, keeps some kind of local industry viable or one that allows/encourages/forces great talent to simply become Californians along with their bank accounts? (Apologies to Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett even Russell Crowe and others who have kept their bank accounts local. Is there a trend developing?)

John Winston writes: Angus Sharpe (yesterday, comments), either you are a Young Liberal studying communications at La Trobe, an elaborate troll or both. Either way, basing your opinion of a film you refuse to see on a review from a source you disregard is imbellic at best.

I am no apologist for the Australian film industry but I doubt the filmmakers in question will be sleeping badly after reading your logic-free, Xenical-addled appraisals of their work. In Luke Buckmaster’s list of artistically successful Australian films there was common theme, anyone pick it? The majority of them were genre:

  • Samson & Delilah — a love story.
  • The Combination — crime drama.
  • My Year Without Sex – comedy.

And so on. Angus’ letter was rife with untrue assertions about the films in question, most notably that The Combination was concocted to receive government grants. It was, believe it or not, funded privately and managed to bring in audiences that generally eschew Australian films without the blanket advertising that films like Transformers employ. And isn’t that what Angus wants?

Zachary King writes: Angus Sharpe’s George W like celebration of his own ignorance (don’t misunderestimate me – I am not an avid cinema goer) and asinine disparagement of the Australian films he lists is obviously a sad reflection of the majority of Australian film goers — hence this year’s top grossing film is Transformers: Revenge of the fallen (sequel) closely followed by yet more Hollywood sequels; Harry Potter, Ice Age.

In 2008 the top grossing film was Dark Knight (sequel), 2007: Harry Potter (sequel), 2006: Pirates of Caribbean (sequel), 2005: Star Wars Episode III (sequel). Get the point yet? Sigh.

The Australian majority of cinema goers are just like the mainstream in most other countries. They want something familiar, unchallenging, non-thought provoking, preferably with explosions. Well guess what? The Australian film industry can’t compete with this — it’s a finance thing, stupid.

So the answer to your question (is the Australian film industry still down in the dumps?) is no — they are making excellent films (average rating on your list was 4.125 Angus — you may not be aware as a non avid cinema goer, but they rate films out of five stars). They are just making films which don’t appeal to the mainstream. Now this may be primarily finance driven, but who cares why? Just keep up the good work.

Maiden speeches:

Peter Scruby writes: Re. “Tips and rumours” (yesterday, item 8). Crikey published:”LNP MP Fiona Simpson, who boasted of her virginity when she made her maiden speech in Queensland Parliament, is said to have produced a CD of gospel songs. Has anyone got a copy?”

Would a maiden speech by a virgin rank as a tautology?

Give me some sugar:

Geoff Russell writes: Re. “A life high in sugar is driving us mad” (yesterday, item 18). David Gillespie tries to string a chain from sugar to dementia, but seems to be a couple of links short. I’m happy to buy a correlation with long term high blood sugar levels, because that’s what the research he linked to found. But neither of the words “sugar” or “sucrose” gets a mention in this study which he say established a direct link between sugar and impaired cognitive function.

Plenty of foods have an equal or higher glycemic index than sugar including most breads and many fruits, so many other food habits could probably keep your blood sugar high, even if you weren’t a sugar hound.

Last, but not least, sugar consumption has declined from about 53kg/person/yr in 1970 to about 40kg/person/yr these days in Australia … now, which direction is the diabetes rate moving?

The slick:

Glen Fergus writes: Re. “What’s big, slick and floating towards the WA coast …” (Wednesday, item 10). The slick was visible again (just) in marginal sun glint below NASA’s Terra satellite yesterday (here at top right, cropped and enhanced below).

It appears to have spread alarmingly in four days, and now covers — pretty completely — an area up to 150km long and 100km wide, for perhaps 10,000km squared total.

Yes, that is right, ten thousand square kilometres. A few drums of detergent, anyone?

Rundle:

Kevin McCready writes: I respect Guy Rundle’s journalism. His Down to the Crossroads was a tour de force of a dysfunctional American society, but his analysis of my position is inaccurate. I said he veers “towards” the loony anti-psychiatry fringe, not “onto”. The difference is vital because I suspect we share common ground on the intellectual garbage that constitutes some forms of psychiatry.

Where I disagree is when Guy says “psychiatry is about power, that of one subject, the doctor, to turn another subject, the patient, into an object by the application of a jargon.” Even for a therapeutic outcome this is an inadequate portrait, though perhaps accurate for the old forms.

To believe nowadays that diagnosing personality disorders attacks human freedom runs against the evidence. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder for example is a severe, familial condition and the symptoms called Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder lead to more suicidal behaviour.

I hope Guy will join me in calling for more evidence based psychiatry — it may be in its infancy but let’s not throw it out with the bathwater.

Send your comments, corrections, clarifications and c*ck-ups to [email protected]. Preference will be given to comments that are short and succinct: maximum length is 200 words (we reserve the right to edit comments for length). Please include your full name — we won’t publish comments anonymously unless there is a very good reason.

Peter Fray

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